Friday, October 24, 2014

When Training Pays Off

On Monday, I mentioned that Barley has been a little mischievous in class lately. It's not entirely clearly why she started nipping all of the sudden after training for 3 years without doing it. But I do have some theories.

When we first started training, we were working on skills not courses. So, we might have two jumps out and we'd take turns working on a front cross or a rear cross. We weren't covering a lot of ground at once and we stopped and treated every time we got the skill right, so the energy didn't get amped up.

Eventually we got to doing longer sequences, but since Barley was still very distracted by the other dogs, we'd still stop and treat every few jumps, so still relatively low energy.

This nipping behavior didn't start until July or August this year. So here are my theories on why it's happening now:

  • More space. We live in an apartment--and it's a relatively big apartment, so there's plenty of room for tossing toys around and we can set up weave poles (but just barely, so it's a more about getting the rhythm than picking up speed) or one jump in the living room. We do have a grassy area off our back patio, but she has to be leashed--and even on a long lead, she doesn't leave my side often. Since Barley doesn't do well with other dogs, she doesn't get to go run and play in dog parks. The opportunity for full-out, off-leash running doesn't come up often. When the leash comes off and she starts running the course, sometimes she just has to run like a maniac for a few minutes.
Going to the football field gives us a safe place to get some distance from each other.
  • More energy. We started introducing the weaves this year, which has added more energy for Barley--we try to practice them with very low-energy to keep her from getting revved up, but the weaves are always going to be exciting on some level, so the better she gets, the more excited she gets going through them. We've also started doing longer sequences without as many treats in between obstacles, which means we aren't constantly starting and stopping as often, so her energy levels increase. When her energy levels increase, she loses her mind periodically.
Energy? What's that?
  • New dogs. For a long time, we had a very small class with classmates we were very comfortable with. One is our reactive dog and noseworks trainer. Another is one we started out with in our very first agility class, so she's seen Barley improve over time. Another is a man who looks very similar to my dad, so I think Barley instantly felt comfortable around him. Our classmates are wonderful, patient, and give us the space we need, so we were able to get over Barley's distraction very quickly and get a lot of work in. Then we've slowly added new dogs to the class--which is great because the whole reason we're doing agility is to get Barley used to be around other dogs, but it also means that each time a new dog is added, we have to start over with getting Barley used to the new energy, which means more distraction and less focus on me and the task at hand.
Barley's already had to open her heart (and her bed) to a cat, so she doesn't know why she should have to tolerate other dogs, too.
  • Instincts. Barley's a border collie mix, so she's a herder. She doesn't like it when other things move quickly without her permission. It took a lot of training to get her to ignore the cat when he decides to chase jingle balls around the house. It took a long time to get her to ignore kids on scooters or bikes when we walk--and she still doesn't handle the motorized scooters well. She's not used to me moving away from her quickly, so when I start running on the course, she wants to stop me.
I was pleasantly surprised when we got into class on Tuesday and there was no nipping involved. I told our trainer about the work we've been doing on the football field and she was thrilled. Barley still wanted to just run free for a little while and skipped a few jumps, but instead of doing her big loops around the gym, she came right back to me when I called her--which is good because there was yet another new dog in the class! I know she's not cured of her nipping and we'll have to continue to do work and reenforce the work we've started, but it was nice to see that she's catching on! 

We haven't had an opportunity to go to the field since class because of rain and other people making use of the field when we've walked by, but we have tried to at least get a little bit of jogging mixed in on our walks (I will never be a jogger--I know I grew up with the whole "never say never" song from An American Tale, but I think I know myself well enough after 30 years to know that running is not something I find enjoyable on any level, so I feel confident saying never here--but if it helps my dog, I don't mind adding in things like "let's jog until the next drive way" or "let's jog until we get to that telephone pole" when we're out for a walk). With our brisk fall weather, this has helped keep me a little warmer on walks, too!




Over the last week, we met (and exceeded) our 3-mile a day goal and logged 22.32 miles this week. Stay tuned next week for our total progress for the year!

Thanks for all the positive vibes you sent to my sweet Soth on Monday--he's finally starting to eat again (but only the pate food he normally won't touch--he's showing no interest in his prescription dry food or his usual canned favorites) and he's continuing to romp, play, and torment Barley, so I think he's feeling better.


18 comments:

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    1. Thanks! It was so easy to do a couple months ago, but now that we have fewer daylight hours, it's getting harder and harder to fit 3 miles in!

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  2. 22 + miles! Nice. Keep up the good work.

    -SlimDoggy Steve

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    1. Thank you! We're getting closer to 1000 for the year every day!

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  3. Keeping on top of new behaviors you don't want is key! No worries if you will never be a jogger. My mom can't get into biking or swimming, but loves running. Everyone has their "thing".

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    1. Walking and hiking are my favorite forms of exercise--I didn't mind yoga until the pets came and now it's always a true test of balance when I have a cat wrapping around one leg and Barley downward dogging beneath me ;)

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  4. Hi Y'all!

    So happy Soth is feeling better. Too bad you haven't been able to get back into the field. The shortening days doesn't help us get out for daylight exercise.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

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    1. It is much harder to get in exercise this time of year! We figure it's safer not to go out and walk just me and Barley in the dark, so we're having to readjust our schedule to fit in enough exercise! I spoke too soon, though--we were able to go play on the field again this afternoon!

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  5. Maybe add some more impulse control games? I'm always working on that with Mr. N.

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    1. We play lots of focus games like "It's your choice"--usually where I put treats on her paws and she gets them when she stops looking at them. We've been told to stop playing touch games for awhile since they draw more attention to my hands. Barley loves playing games, though! Do you and Mr. N have other good suggestions for games?

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  6. Good job with continuing to work with Barley and his nipping and not getting frustrated. It sounds like he is doing great with all the new experiences. 3 miles a day is a great goal. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks! We've definitely been through the frustration stage when the behavior started because it seemed to come straight out of the blue and I had no idea where it was coming from or what to do about it. But our trainer has been great at giving me suggestions of things to work with and Barley's always up to try new things when I come up with training experiments, too :)

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  7. WOW! What great work exceeding your goal, that's such an impressive number! These herding types do take a lot of work to keep frustration at bay, that's for sure. Finding that off button is kind of a lifesaver. Adore the photos with the leaves... you can really see the mischief in them. :)

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    1. The off-button is well hidden on my Barley girl! She is full of mischief and this time of year it seems like the longer we walk, the more energized she gets--I miss summer when a short morning and evening walk would wear her out for the whole day ;) But then we wouldn't have such pretty leaves to have a photoshoot with either!

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  8. Ah, the ever elusive herding dog self control... What do you do for warm ups before agility? I have found that the right warm up exercises help Wilhelm and Huxley find their self control, stay focused, with me and on course.
    I wrote about getting good cardio on walks without jogging or with brief intervals fro last weeks hop, I am not a runner either but my dogs love quick sprints of fast walking and we all get a good workout.

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  9. I love those pictures of Bar in the leaves! So pretty! I'm proud of her for doing well in class! Go Bar!

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  10. Pretty fall pictures. Glad Barley is doing well in class. We can identify with dogs getting excited and losing their minds. Look how long it took Storm to be steady at tests and we train it all the time....lol. 7 years yep 7.

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  11. Patience and training are what's needed for our border collie mixes. It sounds like you've been doing a great job of helping Barley do well in class and at home. I remember when we moved to a 3 dog agility class, Sage hid under my chair. It didn't take long before they were her new 'best friends'!

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